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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Saturday, February 07, 2015

Top Five Apologetics Blog Posts for January

2015 kicked off a flurry of posts, and many of the most popular proved to be focusing on the strength of the Bible and its reliability. This is partly in response to an article Newsweek chose to run in its Christmas week edition that set the reliability of the Christian Bible squarely in its sights. The top two articles for the month answered two of those charges.

Rounding out the top five is an article focusing on the reasonableness of believing in miracles, how Jesus handled a logical fallacy and an article I wrote in honor of Sanctity of Human Life Sunday. Here are the top five apologetics posts for January:

  1. Why You Can Be Confident We Have the Original Bible Texts
  2. Is the Bible Reliable Since Its Been Translated So Many Times?
  3. Miracles Don't Contradict The Laws of Nature
  4. Jesus and Logical Fallacies: The False Dilemma
  5. Why Would the Press Ignore a Real Life House of House of Horrors?

Friday, February 06, 2015

What Were the Crusades? Busting Some Myths

Just what were the Crusades? In his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast yesterday, President Obama likened the evil savagery that ISIS has been perpetrating in the name of Islam to Christianity and the Crusades. First, it makes no sense to with a wave of one's rhetorical hand dismiss one evil because of another. In logic, that is known as the tu quoque (Latin for "you too!") fallacy. Yet, there is another problem with the president's comparison: it's based on a very common, very popular, but very wrong misconception about what the Crusades were about and what actually happened historically.

I want to take a moment to play myth-buster and show why the modern assumptions are very much backwards and why the Crusades are not parallel with the ISIS killings we read in the headlines today.

What Were the Crusades? Myth – Christians Unilaterally Attacked Muslim Lands

This seems to be the foundational myth in misunderstanding what were the Crusades. Many believe  that Christians gathered their armies from the various parts of Europe to march into Muslim territory and conquer anyone believing in Islam. Usually, Christians are painted as religious bigots trying to stamp out the unbeliever through warfare and violence. In a supplemental text to the video game "Crusade of Kings, " R. Scott Peoples writes "The soldiers of the First Crusade appeared basically without warning, storming into the Holy Land with the avowed—literally—task of slaughtering unbelievers."This is a popular picture, but one that's dead wrong.

What Were the Crusades? Reality –Hundreds of Years of Muslim Aggression

Thomas F. Madden summarizes distinguished Crusades expert Dr. Jonathan Riley-Smith and writes, "All the Crusades met the criteria of just wars. They came about in reaction attacks against Christians or their Church."2 The Muslim aggression towards Christians in Christian lands had been recurring over hundreds of years. Muslim invaders had swept across Northern Africa in the seventh century while simultaneously conquering Christian areas in Palestine, up through Russia and southern Italy. For another three hundred years, they attacked Christian southwestern Europe and west Asia.

Scott Thong in his article "Christianity vs Islam – Who Started This Whole Mess?" presents a detailed timeline of all Muslim aggression prior to the Christian response, but I've reproduced a condensed version below:3
  • 634 A.D. Muslim invasion of Byzantine Christian Empire and Palestine
  • 650 A.D. Muslim invasion of Khazar (Ukraine and Russia), until 737 A.D.
  • 652 A.D. Muslims invade and occupy Christian Sicily and Italy, until 1091 A.D.
  • 700 A.D. Muslim invasion of Nubia
  • 711 A.D. Muslims attack, invade and occupy Christian Spain, Portugal, Andora and Gibraltar, and try to invade France but are soundly trashed in the Battle of Tours, until 975 A.D.
  • 846 A.D. Muslim Saracen sacking of Rome
  • 1064 A.D. Muslim invasion of West Asia - Turkish Muslims attack, invade and occupy Asia Minor and Syria, until 1308. However, later events cause them to remain under Muslim occupation today.
  • 1095 A.D. The First Crusade - First Crusade begins. Campaign is limited to retaking formerly Christian lands.
  • Today, all the territory reclaimed from Muslim occupiers during the Crusades has returned to Muslim occupation

What Were the Crusades? Reality - Christians Hoping to Save Their Brethren

Medieval Historian Paul F. Crawford in his article "Four Myths about the Crusades" sums it up by writing:
Far from being unprovoked, then, the crusades actually represent the first great western Christian counterattack against Muslim attacks which had taken place continually from the inception of Islam until the eleventh century, and which continued on thereafter, mostly unabated. Three of Christianity's five primary episcopal sees (Jerusalem, Antioch, and Alexandria) had been captured in the seventh century; both of the others (Rome and Constantinople) had been attacked in the centuries before the crusades.4
Madden and Riley-Smith agree:
The First Crusade was called in 1095 in response to the recent Turkish conquest of Christian Asia Minor, as well as the much earlier Arab conquest of the Christian-held Holy Land. The second was called in response to the Muslim conquest of Edessa in 1144. The third was called in response to the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem and most other Christian lands in the Levant in 1187.

In each case, the faithful went to war to defend Christians, to punish the attackers, and to right terrible wrongs. As Riley-Smith has written elsewhere, crusading was seen as an act of love—specifically the love of God and the love of neighbor. By pushing back Muslim aggression and restoring Eastern Christianity, the Crusaders were—at great peril to themselves—imitating the Good Samaritan.5
So, the comparison the president makes concerning the Crusades and ISIS aggression simply doesn't hold up. ISIS is continuing what Muslims have historically done, with the notable exception that they are seeking to take lands from other Muslims as well. It makes no sense to deflect such barbarism by trying to offer a poor historical comparison. It makes even less sense given the fact that people are dying right now because of ISIS. The threat is immediate and real; pointing to false stereotypes helps no one.


1. R. Scott Peoples, Crusade of Kings (Rockville, MD: Wildside, 2009), 7. Web.
2. Madden, Thomas F. "Inventing the Crusades." First Things. First Things, June 2009. Web. 06 Feb. 2015.
3. Thong, Scott. "Christianity vs Islam - Who Started This Whole Mess?" Leading Malaysian Neocon. Scott Thong, 22 Apr. 2008. Web. 06 Feb. 2015.
4. Crawford, Paul F. "Four Myths About the Crusades." First Principles. Intercollegiate Studies Institute, Spring 2011. Web. 06 Feb. 2015.
5. Madden, 2009.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Dear Mr. President: Holding to Exclusive Belief is not Arrogant

Is it humble to say that no one should claim to have the truth? I've heard such assertions before. I've had discussions with others about religious beliefs and many of them have responded that to claim any kind of concept of God that excludes other beliefs systems is arrogant. But I think the opposite may actually be true.

As an example, I would like to look at part of the speech Barack Obama made at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. While the president, unlike his predecessors, is the first to not hold any observances for the National Day of Prayer during his presidency, he has attended the prayer breakfast each year. The event is put on by The Fellowship Foundation, an organization that blurs all faiths and is described as "assertively non-doctrinal and non-ecclesiastical."1

It isn't surprising, then, that Obama's remarks would take on a non-committal tone. Yet, he made some statements that go beyond non-commitment. In admonishing the audience to "counteract intolerance," he advised:
I believe there are a few principles that can guide us, particularly those of us who profess to believe. And, first, we should start with some basic humility. I believe that the starting point of faith is some doubt—not being so full of yourself and so confident that you are right and that God speaks only to us, and doesn't speak to others, that God only cares about us and doesn't care about others, that somehow we alone are in possession of the truth.2

Searching For the True Truth

This is the kind of claim that sounds very good until you think about it a little more deeply. First, I agree with the president that God cares for all people. But where did he get such an idea? Certainly, it didn't come from the Eastern faiths like Buddhism or Hinduism. In these, the universe runs according to the law of karma. You must repay debts you acquired in a previous life. Karma is impersonal and always exacting; no one escapes it.

The Bible clearly teaches God cares for everyone. Verses like John 3:16 that read "For God so loved the world" and 2 Peter 3:9 that says the Lord is "not willing that any should perish"( ESV) enforce this point. Yet, the concluding portions of both those verses are very exclusive in nature. God so loved the world that he gave his son and it is whosoever that believes on him is saved. God doesn't want us to perish, but instead come to repentance. These are exclusive claims and you must accept them as true or as false, but you cannot do both.

You cannot pull the Christian teaching of God caring about all people out of the way he demonstrated that care—through Jesus' death—and say that you must then doubt that exclusive tent of the faith. It makes no sense. This is true of ANY faith system. All of them make truth claims about God, about the way the universe works, and about how an individual can find salvation. If you embrace a religion, then you are agreeing that its teachings are true and therefore any teaching that contradicts it is false.

The Arrogant Anthropologist

Here's the thing. Those who claim that all faiths have some form of the truth are themselves making a faith claim they want you to accept as true. Leaving aside the contradictory nature of the various belief systems, the person making the statement is saying that believers in an exclusive faith have been duped, while he himself has come to a higher understanding.

I once saw a television show where an anthropologist came to live with a native tribe in the Amazon rain forest. Still using Stone Age tools and grass huts, he proclaimed glowingly how the tribe was "closer to the earth" and had so much less impact on their natural environment. The show showed that the chieftain would seek to cure children born with deformities or illness by sacrificing a chicken and leaving them exposed to the elements. Some would, of course, die. He then said something like, "We may feel that such acts are cruel. They're not, for the tribe cannot afford to take on the burden of caring for such offspring when they won't be able to help the tribe survive. It could be a death sentence for them. While their value on children may be different from our own, neither is wrong. Both are the way we survive in the tribes in which we're raised."

That's hogwash.

The anthropologist was saying that he is smarter than both the tribesmen in their belief that a chicken could cure their child AND in you, the person of the modern society who engages in your rituals because you were raised in them. The anthropologist is claiming to have some kind of privileged knowledge that stands above both points of view. However, if he were to be bitten by a poisonous snake or contract malaria in the jungle, do you think he would accept the sacrificed chicken as his only treatment? If his daughter were diagnosed with cancer, would he seek out the chieftain or would he look for the best oncologist he could find?

Belief systems make truth claims and truth by its very nature is exclusive. For the president to lecture us to "not be so full of yourself" to think that "somehow we alone are in possession of the truth" is disingenuous. He certainly seems to be very confident that he is right. I wonder how he reconciles that with his own advice.


1. Boyer, Peter J. "Frat House for Jesus." The New Yorker. The New Yorker, 13 Sept. 2010. Web. 05 Feb. 2015.

2. Nazworth, Napp. "Obama National Prayer Breakfast 2015 Text Transcript and Full Video; 'The Starting Point of Faith Is Some Doubt'" Christian Post. The Christian Post, Inc. 5 Feb. 2015. Web. 05 Feb. 2015.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

How Would Stephen Fry Answer His Own Challenge to God?

The British actor and comedian Stephen Fry has lit the Internet ablaze. During a taping for the show The Meaning of Life, interviewer Gay Byrne asked the atheist Fry the question that was previously posed to Bertrand Russell: "Suppose it's all true, and you walk up to the pearly gates and you are confronted by God. What will Stephen Fry say to him, her, or it?" (You may watch the full clip below.) Fry fired off a very emotional response, beginning with:
I'd say, "Bone cancer in children? What's that about? How dare you! How dare you create a world to which there is such misery that is not our fault! It's not right; it's utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain." That's what I'd say.1

He goes on to object to God creating the parasites that cause river blindness, detailing the symptoms of some of the more horrific cases. When asked by Byrne "And you think you are going to get in, like that?" Fry responded "No, but I wouldn't want to. I wouldn't want to get in on his terms. They are wrong."

Fry's response is not unfamiliar. It is standard New Atheist fare, a recapitulation of Dawkins and others. He has such arrogance in his answer, though, it seems to take even the interviewer's breath away. Fry is confident that God cannot exist because of the horrible natural evil he sees in the world. Or if God does exist, he has a lot of explaining to do to Stephen Fry as well as to those poor bone cancer victims.

The Problem of Evil is Everyone's Problem

While Fry is railing against God, I wonder how he would answer the same charge using his own worldview. How would Fry offer comfort to the mother of a child with bone cancer within his understanding of atheism? Would he tell her, "Well, I'm sorry. Evolution is driven by natural selection of advantageous genetic mutation. Your child has a mutation, but it wasn't an advantageous one for her. She has to die, but that's OK. The more fit will leave more offspring." Given Fry's view, how can he say contracting bone cancer is unjust? It is the process of mutation in practice.2

Is Fry's answer better? If bone cancer is part of the evolutionary process, how can he label its existence wrong? Where does he get this definition of right and wrong from? If he wants no mutations of DNA at all, then he wants humans to evolve no further. Otherwise, things like pain, suffering, and parasites eating out the eyes of African children is just how the world works; right and wrong don't enter into it at all.

Devils and Angels

Interestingly, before this portion of the interview, Fry was commenting on his bipolar disorder. Byrne asks, "You say for all the pain that depression causes you, you wouldn't want rid of it because of the places it takes you, in terms of creative highs." Fry agrees and quotes W.O. Jordan who said, "Don't take away my devils because you'll take away my angels, too." He then tells Byrne how he can lead a high functioning, successful life that is fulfilling even with a mental illness.

So why is it that Fry can see good come from debilitation within his own life and he would resist the removal of the defect of bipolarism and yet he cannot open his mind at all to the possibility that God allows the evil we see in the world for greater purposes? Surely, Fry doesn't know so much that he can say with certainty how a world of free, fallen creatures would behave in a world where they never need to rely upon God for their safety, to ease their pain, or to appeal to a hope for the future.

The Luxury of Atheism for the Affluent

Andy Walton makes the same point concerning Fry and folks like the British Humanist Association. You may remember that Richard Dawkins and the BHA created an advertising campaign declaring "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life."3 Walton comments such thinking is "aimed at a small, privileged elite of Western people in the 21st century." He continues:
Stop worrying, says Fry. Forget about God and life after death and finally you'll be free to enjoy life. Well, sorry Stephen, but if you take away God and the hope of a life to come, then the majority of believers you'll be ‘setting free' aren't privileged, Western people who'll be released into a life of self-gratifying loveliness. In fact, they are mostly poor, the majority are women and they are clinging onto their hope and faith for all that they're worth. Think of Christians in Syria, DR Congo or North Korea. Think of the hell on earth some them are experiencing. How dare Stephen Fry tell them that life would be so much better if they gave up on their silly faith.4
I think that's right. It's far too easy to assume the moral high ground and judge God when it suits you, but to provide answers from one's own beliefs, that's tough. If Fry wants to really make a convincing argument against God, he needs to come up with his own answer to the problem of evil, one that's better than the hope offered to those wounded children trough Christ.


1. "Stephen Fry." The Meaning of Life with Gay Byrne. RTE One. Dublin, Ireland, 01 Feb. 2015. The Meaning of Life with Gay Byrne. Web. 4 Feb. 2015.
2. Mayo Clinic Staff. "Bone Cancer - Causes." Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic, 12 Sept. 2013. Web. 04 Feb. 2015.
3. "Atheist Bus Campaign." British Humanist Association. British Humanist Association, n.d. Web. 04 Feb. 2015.
4. Walton, Andy. "Thou Shalt Not Question Stephen Fry." Threads. Andy Walton, 3 Feb. 2015. Web. 4 Feb. 2015.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Taking Advice from an Atheist

I recently ran across an article entitled "How to Persuade a Christian to Become Atheist "on the WikiHow website, offering fifteen steps atheists should follow if they wish to "deconvert" their friends or simply put up a proper argument for their atheism. The article is interesting and a bit controversial given some of the comments in its discussion section. I think some of the points are forced, some are wrong, and some show a bit of bias. Yet there are some pieces of advice here that I actually agree with and would encourage people to follow.

Become an Educated Objector

One of the first pieces of advice the article offers is that atheists seeking to defend their view is to:
Educate yourself. The key to reasoning with someone is to understand their position as well as your own. Read everything you can about atheism, Christian apologetics and religious history. A number of Christians, for example, don't know the origins of their religion outside of a biblical context so having an understanding of the history can be beneficial.1
I think this is actually a good piece of advice. I have too many times run across people who object to my beliefs but hold to a caricature of both Christianity’s history and what the Christian faith teaches. Historic claims such as religion is the cause of most wars, Christianity expanded through violence, Christians in the Middle Ages believed the earth was flat, and the supposed pagan origins of Christmas and Easter can all be dismissed if one were to dig into the historical sources.

Asking people to read about not just atheism but also Christian apologetics and religious history is proper and important. I would add, though, that in order for this task to be effective one shouldn’t limit themselves to atheist authors and what they have said regarding those subjects. Read about Christian apologetics by reading the articles of Christian apologists. Find religious history articles by religious historians. Go to the sources. I have read popular atheists like Carrier, Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, and Peter Boghossian, but I’ve also read sophisticated works by David Hume, Michael Ruse, and others.

Reading from the "horse’s mouth" if you will can cut down on misunderstandings. One can see the argument in its larger context. By educating yourself on the arguments of views contrary to your own, you are in a better position to argue for or against that point. Both Christians and atheists should follow this rule. It’s interesting that in the very next step the article advises, "Learn common arguments leveled by theists and the best rebuttals" yet links to only Wikipedia articles and Internet Infidels responses. Such reading may reinforce one’s view, but you won’t really learn much about the beliefs of others.

Guard Against Bias

In offering steps #4 and #5, I think the author tips his hand a bit. Step #4 reads "Examine your own myths, urban legends, and superstitions and learn why people believe stories backed by anecdotal evidence. Understanding something about belief as it pertains to psychology will better prepare you for the challenges ahead."2 Notice that he or she is attempting to bias the reader into grouping beliefs with "myths, urban legends, and superstitions." But belief isn’t as simple as a psychological response. People will believe things based on facts, too. In fact, most beliefs are not psychological responses but rationally based. Christianity is a belief system that roots itself in history, not psychology.

A better suggestion would be to "Examine your own biases." Since everyone has biases, perhaps recognizing what those are would give you a clearer picture of others’ beliefs and why they can reasonably hold to a certain view. It would also help clear up problems that may arise from step #5: "Read and understand their holy book cover to cover. The Bible contains not only contradictions, but also stories that have historical people, places and events that are still up for debate as to their authenticity. For example, the story of Tyre and how the city was destroyed."3

I’m not certain what kind of debate there is over Tyre being destroyed (it was), but reading the Bible would be a good start. Cover to cover may be ambitious initially. How about reading the New Testament to get a better understanding of Christian theology? The claims of Jesus, the love chapter in 1 Corinthians 13, the command to pray for those who persecute you all can help the non-believer understand the heart of Christianity and who Jesus really is. But one shouldn’t read with the sole intent of seeking out contradictions. That mindset will lead you to many misunderstandings, not only within the biblical text, but in most historical or literary works.

There are ten mores steps listed in the article; some are short-sighted and others I disagree with. I'm still not sure why #13 advises atheistrs to "stay away from love." Why is love so scary? But those that focus on building relationship and understanding are appropriate if they are taken in an honest spirit. Both Christians and atheists need to see one another as real people and not simply adversaries or opportunities to show off your argument skills. By sincerely seeking to understand the other's position, both sides will go a long way to better interaction, better comprehension, and being better people.


1. "How to Persuade a Christian to Become Atheist." WikiHow. WikiHow, n.d. Web. 03 Feb. 2015.
2. WikiHow, 2015.
3. WikiHow, 2015.
Image courtesy and licensed by the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) License.

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